Morally probing, moodily stylish, and intensely acted by all, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s thoroughly gripping and realistically violent kidnapping/revenge thriller Prisoners is one of the finest American crime movies in years, a film that has both a commercially satisfying mystery and thoughtful meditations on evil and the necessity/desire for retribution at its bleak and troubling core.
Hugh Jackman went deep with an emotionally complex, career-topping performance (in any other year he would have gotten a Best Actor nom for this gut-wrenching piece of work) and Jake Gyllenhaal yet again demonstrated how perfect he can be when given the right material; he’s been on such a roll of late it’s almost a joke at this point. Aaron Guzikowski’s twisty, twisted, and get this – smart(!) – screenplay never sacrificed coherence or succumbed to cheap exploitation while piling on the plot threads, especially in the final act, with a whirling-dervish of a finale.
Villeneuve was in Fincher/Pakula mode here, carefully obsessing over all of the small directorial touches, bring it all together with his customary brand of character motivated action and sudden, shocking brutality. The incomparable cinematographer Roger Deakins clearly had a ball playing within the parameters of the modern mystery noir genre, cloaking the film in rain, shadows, darkness, and harsh streaks of light.
This is an absolutely top-shelf mystery that only comes around every so often, and when paired with Villeneuve’s other effort from 2013, the massively trippy psychological thriller Enemy, you’re left with a one-two-punch of hard-edged cinema.
Review by Nick Clement